Foreign service families face career transition questions

It may have taken your spouse or children more than one lifetime to receive a promotion, turn a passing grade into a graduate degree, or get a promotion to upper management. But as with…

Foreign service families face career transition questions

It may have taken your spouse or children more than one lifetime to receive a promotion, turn a passing grade into a graduate degree, or get a promotion to upper management. But as with any career change, there are the troubles of having made the transition for you and your family and having to deal with all the hurdles the job of a diplomat brings. It can be complicated.

On its website, the State Department asks that applicants be careful to note how important family and friends are to the qualifications they wish to present and to always consider the cultural impacts of their travel on overseas spouses, children and families, including the impact of age-related changes that have been or will be made. They also ask applicants to consider how their post can be adjusted so that they can be with their families as often as possible.

Ed and Diana Cornett knew it wasn’t easy for them when they decided to move from Washington to Canada and join their daughter, Andrea, in 2014. “No question about it,” says Ed. “Being a foreign service officer is a commitment. These postings require your time, especially if you have a family.”

It would be understandable if this had taken up a significant portion of the Cornett’s life for three years, but after one year, the idea of a different country and a different job with different departmental responsibilities didn’t seem to faze Ed and Diana that much.

“We felt like it was a great opportunity,” he says. “We see how much money we’d be making, how able we would be to leave the country and our children at school without worrying about being gone the entire year. And it was a great change of pace. We fell in love with Vancouver immediately.”

In many ways, Ed says, his experiences in diplomatic postings — including his posting to Japan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — allowed him to reconnect with people he knew as a Navy officer in Mississippi. But every family has its difficulties. For Andrea, living in Vancouver and commuting into Seattle every week to attend King County Public Schools was a difficult adjustment that she couldn’t make without co-workers and school friends.

Still, Andrea loved her experience at work. She got to travel on occasion, and even though her duties weren’t at the level of a foreign service officer, she felt a connection to international workers and their careers.

“For me, working on budgets and readying plans was a lot different from my job in the Navy,” she says. “It was more of a conversation, but I feel I have a better sense of what the Foreign Service is all about and how different people work there. I don’t know if my interest in it would have evolved if I hadn’t been a foreign service officer. Maybe it was just a choice for me.”

Andrea Cornett’s experience as a member of the family of an ambassador certainly benefited from her father’s career. “You get to travel the world,” she says. “It’s just a very nice place to be. You’re near the world.”

But her time at home was difficult. She missed being able to talk with her friends on the phone while she was gone, and she missed her friends and relatives when she was working. When she needed to help them out, she was not able to because there were no family members living in Vancouver to help out.

“There was a lot of uncertainty about what was going to happen to me,” she says. “With the three years I had already spent overseas, all my friends and relatives were born and brought up in Japan, so they were used to seeing me travel. They kept telling me the same thing: that I would be gone for years, and that it would be a nightmare to be apart. But I had to make some choices, and I made it work.”

Despite the challenges, Andrea says her life has been a success.

“Working for the foreign service is the best thing that could have happened to me,” she says. “Every trip I’ve been on has been incredible. We have the freedom to travel wherever we want, and if I ever wanted to go home, I could.”

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